China Box Office: 'Mojin' Crushes Records With Massive $92M Debut

The Lost Legend still 1 - H 2015
Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

While the rest of the planet was transfixed by 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens,' a local fantasy epic achieved China's third-largest weekend opening ever.

While Star Wars: The Force Awakens was wowing moviegoers worldwide last weekend, Chinese film fans turned out in droves for an adventure epic of their own: Mojin – The Lost Legend.

The movie, directed by Wuershan and stocked with A-list Chinese stars, grossed $92 million from Friday to Sunday, the third-best opening weekend ever for a Chinese film, according to data from EntGroup. Mojin set a slew of additional local records, including the biggest opening day for a 3D Chinese film ($26.4 million on Friday) and the largest single-day gross for a local 3D title ($35.5 million on Saturday).

Co-produced and distributed by heavyweights Wanda Pictures, Huayi Brothers and Enlight Pictures, Mojin is an adaptation of Ghost Blows Out the Light, a fantastically popular Chinese online novel about the adventures of a young team of tomb raiders (Lu Chuan's summer hit Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe was based on the same source material).

Mojin won't face any competition from Hollywood until Force Awakens is released on Jan. 9, thanks to China's year-end blackout on foreign film imports. With its starry cast — Huang Bo (Lost in Thailand), Shu Qi (The Assassin), and Angelababy (Young Detective Dee) — and warm critical reception (the film has scored 8.0 and 7.7, respectively, on leading reviews sites Douban and Mtime), many local industry watchers are predicting that the film could become one of China's top five highest-grossing movies of the year. 

Coming in second for the weekend, slapstick period comedy Surprise earned $23.5 million over its official first three days. Anticipating Mojin's impending dominance, Surprise's distributor Bona Film Group gave the movie a record number of preview screenings the weekend prior (Dec. 12-13) in what amounted to a temporary wide release, grabbing the film an early $17.3 million.

Surprise is based on an online comedy series produced by streaming video giant Youku Tudou (which was recently acquired by Alibaba Group). The big screen adaptation was developed and co-produced by Youku's fledgling film imprint, Heyi Pictures, with Bona and other partners. After the weekend, the film's cumulative gross stands at $41 million.

Slipping to third for the full week, DMG and Alcon entertainment's Point Break remake is ending its China run with a very respectable $37.9 million after 17 days. The film added $7.34 million before Mojin stormed into cinemas and took most of its remaining screens.

Point Break's unconventional release strategy — which involved unfurling the film across China a record three weeks before its U.S. premiere — seems to have paid off handsomely and could herald a new approach to managing China's difficult and highly regulated release calendar.

The accounting that made Point Break's early China release possible remains opaque, however. Each year, China allows just 34 foreign films into its cinemas on a box office revenue-sharing basis, which the studios overwhelmingly prefer, as it gives them a direct stake in their movies' sales performance. But by the time of Point Break's surprise early release in December, China's quota was already full. Sources close to the film have told THR that it was imported under China's flat-fee import system, whereby a local Chinese distributor pays the foreign studio a one-off payment for the right to distribute the movie in China and split ticket sales revenue with cinemas and China Film Group, the country's central, state-backed distributor (occasionally, the parties will also include a condition that gives the foreign studio a share of revenue once the movie's box offices crosses a certain threshold).

Last year, DMG — previously an all-Chinese company — was reorganized and split into two parts. Yinji Entertainment & Media (aka DMG Yinji), containing the company's Chinese assets, was launched onto a local stock exchange via a reverse takeover, with company co-founder Peter Xiao as chairman. The company's U.S. operations were spun off stateside as DMG Entertainment, with American co-founder Dan Mintz remaining as CEO. The two companies are said to have a contractual co-operation arrangement, described as "a strategic partnership under the DMG master brand."

How Point Break's import from U.S. co-producers Alcon and DMG Entertainment to Chinese distributors Yinji Entertainment & Media and China Film Group hashed out from a regulatory and accounting standpoint isn't clear. Both DMG and Alcon have declined to comment.

Meanwhile, The Martian, now on its final legs, crossed the $90 million mark in China over the past week, adding $3.66 million to its total of $91.5 million after 26 days.

The remaining six slots on the weekly top-ten list were occupied by holdover releases logging very slight gains. Marital arts flick The Master grossed $3.19 million, bringing its 11-day cume to $8.23 million. Impossible earned $2.12 million for $17.4 million after 17 days, while Fall in Love Like a Star added $2.02 million to its 18-day total of $24.8 million. Romantic drama Forever Love nabbed 1.93 million for a 10-day total of $3.30 million, and Our Times added to its 32-day haul of $56.2 million with a weekly gross of $1.30 million.

Ron Howard's Rush rounded out the bottom of the charts, grossing $1.25 million for a 10-day cume of $3.02 million. Imported on a flat-fee basis, the movie opened almost two years after its global debut and on the same day (Dec. 11) as Howard's latest film, In The Heart of the Sea, released internationally. Many online reviewers expressed bafflement at the extreme delay.